New Delhi, Feb. 10: Afzal Guru had pleaded that he was not granted sufficient legal help in defending himself — an issue that has been raised afresh by human rights groups after he was hanged yesterday.
The Supreme Court had dealt with Afzal’s legal team in detail in the judgment of 2005 that upheld the death sentence.
Afzal had said he was not provided proper legal counsel after his first counsel and amicus curiae Seema Gulati withdrew from his case and opted to defend Syed Abdul Rehman Gilani, the college teacher who was subsequently acquitted.
The Supreme Court bench of then Justices P. Venkatarama Reddy and P.P. Naolekar said the trial court had appointed Gulati’s junior Neeraj Bansal as an amicus because he was an expert in cases related to Tada, the now-defunct anti-terrorism law.
Four advocates whose name Afzal had suggested were not accepted by the court as they declined to appear, the bench said.
Afzal was also given the chance to cross-examine prosecution witnesses in addition and he did avail himself of that opportunity now and then, the Supreme Court said.
“On several occasions, there was common cross-examination on behalf of all the accused. No indication of apparent prejudice is discernible from the manner in which the case was defendedů,” according to the judgment.
The court rejected the plea of insufficient defence on the following grounds. “Though the objection that he was not satisfied with his counsel was reiterated, we do not think that the court should dislodge the counsel and go on searching for some other counsel to the liking of the accused. The right to legal aid cannot be taken thus far. It is not demonstrated before us as to how the case was mishandled by the advocate appointed as amicus except pointing out stray instances pertaining to cross-examination of one or two witnesses,” the bench said.
However, the apex court set aside the death sentence of another convict and a cousin of Afzal, Shaukat Hussain Guru, for the terror attack.
The court held Shaukat guilty of not divulging to authorities the conspiracy, although he was aware of it because of his proximity with Afzal. Sentenced to 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment, Shaukat was released from jail in December 2010.
The court drew a distinction between evidence furnished against Afzal and Shaukat.
“The important missing link is that there was no occasion on which Shaukat ever contacted any of the deceased terrorists on phone. Shaukat was not shown to be moving with the deceased terrorists at any time, excepting that he used to go with Afzal to the boys’ hostel where Mohammed (a slain terrorist) was staying initially and he once accompanied Afzal and Mohammed to the mobile phone shop.
“He did not accompany Afzal at the time of purchases of chemicals used for the preparation of explosives and the car used by terrorists to go to Parliament House,” the court said.